December 2000 Bulletin

Who we are and what we do

Several years ago, an AAOS survey revealed two deficiencies that most orthopaedists, including myself, were not aware. First, patient-physician communication was considered less than satisfactory. Since that time we have made our members aware of the problem and are now in the process of putting programs in place to correct the problem.

Second, and maybe an even greater problem, is that the public has difficulty determining who we are and what we do. As a matter of fact, the survey revealed that if asked the words "foot surgery," the public had trouble differentiating between orthopaedic surgeons and podiatrists; back problems, us and chiropractors; soft tissue joint sprain, us and family practitioners. In the past, we relied on our orthopaedic reputation to spread the word of our expertise. I believe this may be naïve. The results of the survey indicate this may not be enough and we need to do more in this expanding information age.

Let’s face it, we need to be competitive. We are the number one musculoskeletal provider in the world, but we need to fortify that position. The New York Yankees are not number one because they are the Yankees, but because they are competitive and work hard at what they do. Likewise, we need to be competitive in the public relations area and tell patients, the public and third party payers that we are the primary and premier providers of musculoskeletal care through a public relations program.

To accomplish this, we formed the Council on Communications, and the Public and Media Relations Committee in the council and the department of public and media relations to create and implement a public relations program. The public relations budget is $1.5 million per year. When we first started, some argued that providing funds for public relations is like throwing money into a black hole. Even if you are successful, success is difficult to measure. I was somewhat leery myself. Now I am a believer.

The Council on Communication, headed by Stuart Hirsch; the Public and Media Relations Committee, led by John Purvis; and department of public and media relations, directed by Sandy Gordon, have done a marvelous job.

Even the most ardent detractors of public relations will have to admit that the first year has been a resounding success. Suddenly, at the national level, we see orthopaedic public service announcements and orthopaedic surgeons being highlighted in the media about their orthopaedic care, their expertise and their volunteer commitments in the musculoskeletal field. Remember, the public relations program is focused on the field of orthopaedics and orthopaedists, not on the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Should we continue to support these public relations efforts for another year or more at the same dollar amount? I think so.

Here’s what’s on the horizon for 2001.

The Community Orthopaedic Awareness Program is a series of five PowerPoint presentations for orthopaedic surgeons to use in their communities to educate lay audiences. The program focuses on orthopaedic subjects of great interest to the public—osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, sports injuries and general injury prevention.

The presentations will include video segments featuring a diverse selection of orthopaedic patients identified by the AAOS membership. The patients will share their powerful stories related to the selected orthopaedic topics.

These multimedia presentations will be linked in with the Academy’s new Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign that carries the theme, Getting You Back in the Game. Television, radio and print PSAs will be distributed to more than 13,000 media outlets nationwide and more than 100 airports.

In addition to the patient video segments, the community presentations will provide educational information about the Bone and Joint Decade, burden of disease statistics, prevention information and treatment options. A "How To" guide will be provided, offering orthopaedic surgeons tips and techniques for bringing the information to the community, including sample Letters to the Editor and press releases for use at the local level.

The Academy has developed a juried art exhibition, eMotion Pictures: an Exhibition of Orthopaedics in Art. This exhibit will "tell the story" of musculoskeletal conditions and the burden of disease through the art of patients and the orthopaedists who treat them. A Call for Entries for the show was issued to both orthopaedic surgeons and patients.

A total of 1,298 slides depicting works of art were received from orthopaedic surgeons and orthopaedic patients, representing 17 countries and 43 states. Jurors selected 157 pieces for the show, submitted by 70 artists with orthopaedic conditions and 25 orthopaedic surgeons. The art exhibit will open at the Herbst International Exhibition Hall in the San Francisco Presidio prior to the Academy’s Annual Meeting, and will remain open until the third week in March.

Following the San Francisco showing, we plan to move the exhibit to Washinton, D.C. We have applied to install the exhibit in the Russell Senate Office Building during the week of the National Orthopaedic Leadership Conference (NOLC), April 23-27. We plan to host a cocktail reception in the Russell Caucus Room for policymakers, orthopaedic surgeons and the media the evening of Thursday, April 26. We also are working on plans to bring the art exhibit to the United Nations in New York City in December 2001-January 2002.

The second Safe, Accessible Playground program of the Bone and Joint Decade will be on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2001, at Coyote Point, a large public park in San Mateo County, located south of the airport in San Francisco. More than 300,000 adults and children, with and without disabilities, visit the park annually.

Orthopaedic surgeons and their families, state and specialty orthopaedic societies, orthopaedic industry representatives, media, staff and community volunteers will meet at the park the day before the Annual Meeting opens and will build a safe, accessible playground in a single day.

The Academy will develop an eight-page, four-color newspaper supplemental insert for the USA Today newspaper, presenting consumer-friendly content on various orthopaedic topics. The theme is Orthopaedics in Motion. The insert will appear in the March 2, 2001 issue of the newspaper, during the Academy’s Annual Meeting. The project provides us with a vehicle to reach 5.4 million readers and offers high visibility to the Bone and Joint Decade, the Academy and its public messages. Almost every orthopaedic specialty society will participate in the newspaper insert.

The public and media relations staff is working with many orthopaedic journals to report the latest findings in orthopaedic research by preparing and distributing news releases on topics of interest to the general public.

As you can see, these new programs for 2001, combined with our public relations programs already in place, are impressive, ambitious and costly. Are they worth $1.5 million a year? I don’t know. In our original public relation survey, methods were put in place to see if our efforts had any impact on public opinion in the future. I believe it will, but I don’t believe it will be as great as some may anticipate. I am told it is hard to move public opinion even a single percentage point.

Our accomplishments may not be spectacular, but it is a start. Not "glitzy," not "splashy," but persistent and consistent. I believe, and I can already see signs of it, that if we continue to work hard, the public and providers will get a clear message of who we are and what we do.

S. Terry Canale, MD

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